US & Canada

Fight or freeze: What we did when faced with a gunman

Man with conceal and carry gun Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption When faced by a gunman people have different stress reactions - fight, flight, or freeze

US President Donald Trump has said he would have run in to the Florida school during the mass shooting. What have others done when faced with a gunman?

"I really believe I'd run in there even if I didn't have a weapon," Mr Trump told a group of state governors gathered at the White House.

We asked three people what they did when confronted by a gunman threatening their lives.

'I fought for my life'

Heather Bryant, 42, Maryland

One evening I was working alone in a store and a man walked in and put a gun to my chest, demanding money.

With the gun pointed toward my chest I slowly bagged up the cash. I put all the money in a bag and handed it over to him, thinking "he's going to leave now".

He didn't leave.

He told me to shut my mouth and cursed at me. He told me to take him back into the stock room. I pretended to oblige. I had no idea how to get out of this situation and only had a few seconds to think of something.

One thing that came to mind was I would rather be shot in the open store where anyone walking by may see me versus back in a tiny stock room with no windows or doors and no way to escape. I remember thinking I was not going in that stock room with this man and his gun. Period.

I pretended to open the stock room door. As I did he momentarily took the gun off my chest giving me a split second to throw a metal display case over his head.

He dropped to his knees. Money scattered all over the floor.

I saw the gun was no longer in his hand.

But now he was furious with me. I knew I had to keep fighting.

As we went at each other a woman outside, startled by the noise, peered into the window.

This scared him, and he grabbed the gun and ran away. As he left he told me he would be back for me.

I know many people have a freeze that comes over them when confronted by this type of danger.

They feel helpless and weak and they can't move.

For some reason my instinct was to fight, and I'm glad I did. I had no choice.

'We fought, and then we fled'

Tina Ring, 53, Oklahoma

This week, on the 10th anniversary of opening my liquor store, an armed gunman entered while I was working with my daughter, Ashley Lee, who is 30.

He came towards us holding a shotgun and demanded money from our register.

I remember thinking: "Really?"

Nothing like this had ever happened before. I had no idea how I was going to react.

At first, I complied. I told my daughter to open the drawer and give him the money. She did.

I didn't really think during that moment, I just reacted.

He grabbed all the money and started walking towards the door. We ducked behind the counter and grabbed two guns that were hidden there.

The next thing I remember is seeing his face as he came back around the counter. I don't remember pulling the trigger, but I did.

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Media captionWatch Tina Ring confront the gunman

When he grabbed me, I recognised him as a customer that had entered the store an hour earlier. I said: "I know you."

I wish I hadn't said that because it sent him into a panic.

All I remember from these terrifying minutes was trying to protect my daughter. I shot him, she shot him. But he never went down.

I was scared for my daughter and I was scared for my life.

We fought, and then we fled.

As soon as we were out of his grasp we sprinted out the door and ran away. He came after us but we managed to get away.

I'm thankful he's alive. I wasn't trying to hurt him. I just wanted him to stop terrorising my daughter.

You really never know how you're going to react in that situation until it happens to you.

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Media captionTrump: 'I would have run in even if I didn't have weapon'

'I couldn't move, I was frozen'

Len Penzo, 54, California

When I was 16, I worked at a local supermarket in my hometown. It was a weekend shift and the place was hopping.

I was bagging groceries for a customer when I heard the screeching tyres of a car that had violently backed up to the supermarket doors.

At first I didn't really think too much about it - I figured it was simply some ticked-off driver who decided to park in the no-parking zone.

I was wrong.

The next thing I knew three guys wearing pantyhose [sheer tights] over their faces stormed into the store screaming at the top of their lungs.

"Nobody move! Hands in the air!"

One of the robbers turned his gun on the people in the checkout line, shouting obscenities and telling them to keep their hands in the air.

I was in a state of disbelief at what was happening. In the back of my mind, I still hadn't truly processed the danger that we were all in. The whole thing was so surreal.

The third robber ran towards me carrying a shotgun. He told me to get on the floor so he could get into the cash register behind me.

Unfortunately for me, I was paralysed with fear and my legs wouldn't move.

He screamed his command and swore at me again: "I said get on the floor!"

I couldn't move. I was frozen.

Visibly frustrated, he lunged at me and threw me to the ground, face down. He took his shotgun, placed it on the back of my head, and told me not to move or he'd blow my head off.

I thought my life was over. He was angry with me for slowing them down.

It's hard to describe the feelings that swim through your brain when somebody has a gun to your head. Aside from fear, the most powerful feeling I experienced was utter helplessness.

You're literally at the mercy of somebody who couldn't care less if you live or die; as a result, your life literally hangs in the balance.

I remember thinking about what it would feel like when he pulled the trigger. I remember thinking about my mom and dad and sister, and I prayed to God too.

It seemed like an eternity, but it couldn't have been more than a minute before the robbers finished their job. That's when they bolted out the door.

Looking back, I suspect the paralysing fear I experienced was the result of being in a position where I subconsciously determined that neither fight or flight was an appropriate response.

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